A Brief Guide to Bible Translations

Hebrew textThe Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Unless we are able to read and understand these ancient languages, we need to rely on Bible translations. The Bible is the most translated book in the world, as it is available in almost all languages. In fact, it is the most read book ever.

Over the course of the ages both languages and needs constantly change. For this reason, scholars and translators often develop new versions and translations to meet emerging needs. Scholars estimate that in English alone there have been more than 500 Bible translations. With so many available, choosing a good one to use for personal reading or study can be quite a challenge. So, we decided to describe some of the most popular English versions available today. We hope this will help you find out which one best fits your needs.

Here below is a simple diagram that organizes the most common or popular English translations of today. The most literal are on the left and the paraphrases on the right. To save space, we have used common abbreviations, but you can find an explanation in their respective descriptions below.

Bible Translations Diagram

Essentially, we can group all the various translations of the Bible according to their style of translation.

Literal (word for word) versions

Some versions attempt to be literal renditions of the original text, staying as close as possible to the original. They follow a method of translation known as verbal equivalence. These versions can be good for doctrinal and serious study. This is because they are the closest to the inspired message in its original form. They help by bringing us as close as possible to the way Scripture was originally written. The idea is to keep the inspired message as much as possible unaltered in the translation. The challenge, however, rests in their readability. The closer the translation is to the original form, the harder it is to make it readable in English.

Paraphrases

Other versions, instead, tend to translate the original in more of a paraphrased, modern language. They focus more on readability and flow than on accuracy. These versions can be good for light reading, or for those who find it difficult to understand the language of the more literal ones. They have the advantage of communicating with clarity of language, making the reading more pleasurable. However, they are often subject to the interpretation of the translators, who convey the overall meaning as they understand it. A few of these versions even expand the text of the Bible, inserting phrases and even full sentences that are not found in the original languages. For this reason, these versions generally are not used nor recommended for doctrinal reading or study.

The “Middle-of-the-Road” Versions

Other versions tend to adopt what is generally called the dynamic equivalence method of translation. This method is still the subject of debate among scholars. These Bible translations attempt to convey the original text in a thought-by-thought, rather than word-by-word style. Some of them seek to maintain accuracy while offering readability and a linguistic style that is relevant to the average modern reader. These can be good for devotional reading and perhaps for personal study, especially if compared to more literal versions. On-going debate and sometimes controversy among scholars, however, cause some to be cautious against the use of some of these versions for doctrinal or more serious study.

Bible Translation Samples

We wanted to give you a “feeling” for how a specific Bible translation may read. For this reason, for each of the Bible translations indicated in the diagram above we including a brief description with a sample passage from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.

Interlinear

This is not really a translation, but rather a transliteration of the original language. It is intended to help novice English students of the original languages. This version is called interlinear because each line of original text is alternated to a line of the English transliteration. Each English word in the line is then carefully located under its equivalent in the original language. The order of the words, therefore, is not determined by English grammar, but rather by the original text. It is not meant for reading, but rather to facilitate the study of the Hebrew or Greek text. We include it here only for the purpose of comparison.

Psalm 2:7
I will declare of the statute of Jehova: He said to me, my son you (are); I today have begotten you!

Acts 17:22
Having stood and Paul in [the] middle of the Areopagus he said, men, Athenians, with respect to everything how very religious you [to be] I observe.

Colossians 2:9-10
Because in Him dwells all the fullness of the godhead bodily, and you are in Him having been made full, who is the head of all rule and authority.

NASB: New American Standard Bible

This is one of the most literal and accurate translation of the Bible. It preserves word for word equivalence and renders the sentence structure as closely as possible to the original language. Yet, it is also fluent and readable according to current English grammar and style. The Lockman Foundation originally published it in a partial edition in 1960. The full edition saw its first publication as the complete Bible in 1971. Since then the editorial board has continued its work, and in 1995 they published a revision that eliminated the archaic “thees” and “thous” from the poetic books and updated its language to maintain fluent readability in current English.

Psalm 2:7
“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.‘”

Acts 17:22
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.

Colossians 2:9-10
For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;

KJV: King James Version (Authorized Version)

Translated in 1611, this version is considered the classic English translation of the Bible. Although many love it for its familiarity and poetic form, due to its age its language is archaic and it can be difficult to understand. This version attempts to translate each word of the original languages. It often uses long sentences as well as idioms and metaphors. It is best suited for advanced reading levels.

Psalm 2:7
I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.

Acts 17:22
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.

Colossians 2:9-10
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:

NKJV: New King James Version

This translation is a revision of the traditional King James Version. It updates its language while maintaining its basic literary structure. Like the KJV, this revision attempts to translate each word of the original languages. Although it is much easier to read, it still uses long sentences and metaphors that may make it more suitable for advanced reading levels.

Psalm 2:7
I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.

Acts 17:22
Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious;

Colossians 2:9-10
For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.

NAB: New American Bible

This translation is the official translation of the Roman Catholic Church in America. It should not be confused with the New American Standard Bible. This version is still fairly literal in its approach, and includes the deuterocanonical books. Deuterocanonical comes from the Greek, and it means “belonging to the second canon.” These are books and sections of books that the Catholic Church added to the Old Testament canon, but are not found in the Hebrew canon. They include: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom (also called the Wisdom of Solomon), Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and some additions to the book of Esther and of Daniel. This version attempts to translate every word of the original languages and places its emphasis on word order. It tends to have long sentences and uses idioms and metaphors. Therefore, it is best for advanced reading levels.

Psalm 2:7
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, who said to me, “You are my son; today I am your father.”

Acts 17:22
Then Paul stood up at the Areopagus and said: “You Athenians, I see that in every respect, you are religious.”

Colossians 2:9-10
For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, and you share in this fullness in him, who is the head of every principality and power.

NRSV: New Revised Standard Version

This translation is sponsored by the National Council of the Churches of Christ. It attempts to translate every word of the original languages, with a mild emphasis on word order. It often uses long sentences, idioms and metaphors that make it best suited for advanced reading levels.

Psalm 2:7
I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.”

Acts 17:22
Then Paul stood up in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.”

Colossians 2:9-10
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.

NJB: New Jerusalem Bible

This translation is modeled after its French original, and was first published in 1966. It is based on the work of L’Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, and follows the principles of dynamic equivalence. The 1966 edition became a very popular ecumenical version for study, liturgy and personal reading. In 1985 scholars revised it based on more recent biblical scholarship and to improve literary quality and accuracy.

Psalm 2:7
I will proclaim the decree of Yahweh: He said to me, ‘You are my son, today have I fathered you.”

Acts 17:22
So Paul stood before the whole council of the Areopagus and made this speech: ‘Men of Athens, I have seen for myself how extremely scrupulous you are in all religious matters,”

Colossians 2:9-10
In him, in bodily form, lives divinity in all its fullness, and in him you too find your own fulfilment, in the one who is the head of every sovereignty and ruling force.

NIV: New International Version

The NIV is a popular version widely used among protestant Christians. It seeks a balance between a word-for-word translation and an emphasis on meaning and fluency of language. The translation attempts to preserve the meaning of the literal text, while communicating the concepts and ideas of the original message in current language.

Psalm 2:7
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”

Acts 17:22
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.

Colossians 2:9-10
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

CEV: Contemporary English Version

This version seeks to avoid difficult vocabulary and sentence structure. This is in order to provide a plain translation that may be easily understandable to the modern reader. The CEV seeks to translate into English the meaning and the concepts of the original text, placing more emphasis on the clarity of meaning than on individual words.

Psalm 2:7
I will tell you promise the LORD made to me: “You are my son, because today I have become your father.”

Acts 17:22
So Paul stood up in front of the council and said: “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious.”

Colossians 2:9-10
God lives fully in Christ. And you are fully grown because you belong to Christ, who is over every power and authority.

TEV: Today’s English Version

Also known as The Good News Bible, this version was published in 1976 by Tyndale. It seeks to render the meaning of the original texts in words and forms that are widely accepted by English speaking people. The version attempts to convey the biblical message in a natural everyday form of English.

Psalm 2:7
“I will announce,” says the king, “what the Lord has declared. He said to me: “You are my son; today I have become your father.

Acts 17:22
Paul stood up in front of the city council and said, “I see that in every way you Athenians are very religious.

Colossians 2:9-10
For the full content of divine nature lives in Christ, in his humanity, and you have been given full life in union with him. He is supreme over every spiritual ruler and authority.

NLT: New Living Translation

This version is translated with a fresh, clear style that makes it enjoyable to read. The aim of this translation is a thought-for-thought (rather than word-for-word) approach to the original text. It places more importance on the overall meaning and the style of language than on individual words.

Psalm 2:7
The king proclaims the LORD’s decree: “The LORD said to me, ‘You are my son. Today I have become your Father.

Acts 17:22
So Paul, standing before the Council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious,

Colossians 2:9-10
For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

The Living Bible

The aim of this translation is to communicate the essential message of God’s Word to the average English reader. It simplifies theological language and expands it or paraphrases it when necessary in order to make it easy to understand.

Psalm 2:7
His chosen one replies, “I will reveal the everlasting purposes of God, for the Lord has said to me, ‘You are my Son. This is your Coronation Day. Today I am giving you your glory.'”

Acts 17:22
So Paul, standing before them at the Mars Hill forum, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious,

Colossians 2:9-10
For in Christ there is all of God in a human body; so you have everything when you have Christ, and you are filled with God through your union with Christ. He is the highest Ruler, with authority over every other power.

The Message

This version is a colorful paraphrase that aims to convey the message of the original text in a way that is creative and impacts the reader. It greatly simplifies the language and expands the message in the attempt to make it easy to understand.

Psalm 2:7
Let me tell you what GOD said next. He said, “You’re my son, and today is your birthday.”

Acts 17:22
So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously.

Colossians 2:9-10
Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.


Additional Reading:  Spiritual First Aid from the Word of God